Q&A: Resources for Sitters

Vilmarie Narloch

Vilmarie Narloch

Vilmarie Narloch is director of drug education for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, where she oversees the peer-education program. She is also a clinical psychologist and director of the psychedelic therapy clinic Sana Healing Collective.


BCSP

“How should a sitter prepare for the experience?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“You have to start simply: Who is the person who has asked you to be a sitter for them? How well do you know them? Why are they considering this experience? Why did they reach out to you to be a sitter? You want to understand any sort of medical, behavioral, or psychological risks that might be present. You want to know what kind of experience this person is hoping to have, and have some knowledge and understanding about the particular substance they’re going to use: how it works in the body, contraindications regarding any medications the person might be on, and potential psychological risks.

Understand what the legal risks might be in your community: Is it decriminalized or legalized? Make sure you understand what the potential risks are if you get caught. Are you a therapist? If so, is your license on the line if you do something like this? What are your own boundaries around this kind of situation?

Make sure that, to the best of your ability, you and that person can ensure that whatever they take is in fact what they intend to take. If possible, check the drug through reagent testing from an organization like DanceSafe or Bunk Police or Dosetest. Understand how things like fasting may impact an experience. Understand where this experience is going to take place and how you can ensure safety as much as possible in the setting, including factors like whether they have roommates or could get to a hospital easily.

Also, what is their plan for integration afterwards? Will you be involved? Do they have a therapist to help integrate? Are they involved in a local psychedelic community where they can get some integration support?”


BCSP

“Does a sitter need to be alert for the whole experience or can they bring things to read, listen to, or watch?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“You absolutely have to be alert for the whole experience, which you should check in with yourself about. Are you ready to sit with that person for potentially eight hours? That can be exhausting. The energy in the space can shift really subtly at times, but for the person in the experience it may be very impactful. You want to be attuned to that person as much as possible, so it can be useful to have something with which to write down notes about what you’re observing of the other person, even if they’re just chill and relaxed. Being able to keep notes is also helpful for their integration later. Maybe there are a couple of people that are sitting for someone, which can be useful for safety, relationship balance, or so that you can step out if you need to use the restroom or take a break.”

“People may get anxious, emotional, or really scared. It’s important for the person that’s taking the drug to be prepared for those things themselves, but also to understand how you, as a sitter, are going to support them.”


BCSP

“What should a sitter do if someone is getting upset or scared during their trip?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“You should have a plan in place that you’ve developed with that person– a set of strategies that you’ve both agreed to in advance. People may get anxious, emotional, or really scared. It’s important for the person that’s taking the drug to be prepared for those things themselves, but also to understand how you, as a sitter, are going to support them.

That will look different for each individual. It can look like checking in with them verbally or providing a secure touch.

It’s really important to discuss consent for touch beforehand. People have lots of different feelings about whether or not they like to be touched and how. Particularly when you’re in a vulnerable state like this, it’s exceptionally important to make sure that you’ve had those conversations and agreements ahead of time. It’s never OK to increase the amount of touch in the moment, when they cannot consent to it because they’re under the influence of drugs.

The person having an experience can ask for the sitter to hold their hand, or establish beforehand that the sitter can offer that. Remind them of any sort of agreements that you’ve discussed, like breathing through it or mantras.”


BCSP

“When does a sitter need to call 911?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“That’s usually because of a biological issue. You would call 911 if they’re experiencing chest pain, having trouble breathing, or if their temperature goes up really high. It’s important to have some basics on hand to keep tabs on that, like water and maybe a thermometer. If they start to vomit a lot in a way that’s not just a psychedelic purge and you’re concerned that they may be dehydrated, that would be a time to call 911. Being out in the woods or out in nature is usually really appealing to folks, but having access to medical care is important as well.”


BCSP

“Can a sitter get in legal trouble for helping someone who has taken illegal drugs?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“It’s super important to know the laws and your rights in your state and municipality. Some places have good Samaritan or medical amnesty laws. Some don’t. The penalties will certainly be worse if that person dies, so the most important thing is to make sure that they get medical care as soon as possible.”


BCSP

“If the sitter calls 911, can that get the people they’re watching in trouble?”

Vilmarie Narloch

“That’s going to vary from state to state and sometimes municipality to municipality. In some places, some of these substances have been decriminalized or deprioritized. Some locales have medical amnesty policies. Some protections are only for the person that’s having the medical emergency and some include the person who is calling. It really is going to depend on where you are.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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